As one out of nine glorious national parks in Taiwan, the Taroko Gorge is a breathtaking sight which easily makes a wondrous weekend trip.
The last time I was at Taroko Gorge was back in the 80s. Pre-immigration, pre-America. I sported thick glasses, sported pigtails and my knee-high socks were all the rage. My dad drove a boxy Volvo and we roadtripped along the East Coast of Taiwan like no one’s business. The roads inside the magnificent national park were so narrow that the edges of marble walls almost scarred the shimmery surface of our vehicle.
Almost four decades later, Taroko Gorge hasn’t changed much. Astonishing, since it’s been in existance for 200 million years old. It remains to harbor some of Taiwan’s highest peaks, rarest wildlife, and best of all, prettiest hikes. On par with Sun Moon Lake and Alishan, Taroko Gorge is an essential destination on this radiant island.
HOW TO GET THERE
The best way to reach Taroko National Park from Taipei is by train, which is a two-hour ride from Taipei Station 台北車站, with several stops along the East Coast of Taiwan. The final stop should be Hualien Station 花蓮火車站. You can book tickets from Taiwan Railway’s website.
From Hualien Train Station, you can either hail a taxi or arrange a car pickup via hotel reservation. Most hotels will coordinate pickups from the airport or the train station.
Another form of transportation from Taipei to Hualien is by plane, with departure from Songshan Airport 松山機場, arriving at Hualien Airport 花蓮機場. The duration of the flight should be approximately 50 minutes.
You can also rent a car, but it’s not recommended as the windy roads leading up to Taroko Gorge can be narrow and extremely dangerous as they edge along sharp cliffs. Driving from Taipei to Hualien takes approximately 2h30m, but driving into Taroko Gorge requires an additional hour.
To understand the origin of Taroko Gorge, one must first learn that Taiwan island was created four million years ago, through Penglai Orogeny – the collision of Philippine and Eurasian plates. The impact gave birth to Central Mountain Range which runs through modern-day Taiwan from north to south.
The marble walls that we see at Taroko Gorge today, are calcium carbonates from 230 million years ago. Due to millions of years of erosion, deposits through time, and various elements that continue to lithify through limestone; the combination of deposits and pressures of crashing plates eventually transformed into the marbled gorge.
Taroko National Park was originally established by the Japanese government when Taiwan was under Japan’s colonization in 1937. After WWII, Chiang Kai Shek’s Republic of China party eradicated the park in 1945. Fortunately, the national park was reestablished on November 28th, 1986, covering 360 square miles that stretch from Hualien, Nantou, to Taichung counties.
Today, Taroko Gorge is home to 27 peaks over 9,800 feet and the Truku tribe, an indigenous group that paved way for the name “Taroko” (太魯閣.) Truku is part of 16 tribes in Taiwan and settled in the gorge between 1680 and 1740 after migrating from Nantou’s Sun Moon Lake region. For hunting reasons, the Truku trekked through Central Mountain Range and gradually settled in Hualien. Since they were eventually detached from Atayal 泰雅 indigenous group, the Truku developed their own traditions and customs in Hualien by evenly sharing their land and livestocks while carrying a ferocious yet undivided spirit.
Silks Place Taroko
97253, Taiwan, Hualien County, Xiulin Township, 天 祥 路18號
The most beautiful hotel located deep in Taroko Gorge is the Silks Place Taroko, which is not only exquisitely designed but also family-friendly. The 5-star luxury hotel and resort is fit for family with both an indoor and outdoor pool, outdoor jacuzzis, a rooftop tennis court, a game room for kids, a fully-equipped gym, a yoga room, multiple restaurants serving aboriginal foods and traditional Taiwanese cuisine.
The cleaning staff also prepares afternoon snacks, and replenish daily snacks, even face masks. Every item in the mini fridge is re-stocked daily, guests are welcome to consume snacks and drinks without additional charges.
We highly recommend reserving rooms with VIP lounge access, which offers daily afternoon tea and snacks from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. Breakfast at the VIP lounge comes with two options: Eastern or Western styles. Each is served with multiple plates of delicious dishes that adhere to personal eating preferences.
TIPS & TRICKS
Stay at least 2-3 nights.
Even if it’s completely possible to spend a full day at Taroko Gorge, it’s best to span your trip at a minimum of 2-3 nights in order to fully experience various hikes and vista points while not feeling rushed. Stay up to three nights also allows travelers to explore other parts of Hualien while entering and exiting the Gorge.
Time your trip to avoid Taiwan’s national holidays or long weekends.
During trip planning, be sure to avoid Taiwan’s national holidays so that your visit to Taroko Gorge isn’t tainted by massive crowds and tour buses. Some major holidays to steer away from are: Lunar New Year, Tomb Sweeping Day 清明節 (or Qingming Festival,) 228 Memorial Day, Dragon Boat Festival 端午節, Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋節, National Holiday 雙十節…and more.
This travel tip typically applies to other major landmarks in Taiwan as well, including: Alishan, Sun Moon Lake, Hehuanshan…etc.
Include these essential items in your packing list, in spite of mild temperatures all-year-round.
Despite mild weather throughout all four seasons at Taroko Gorge, the elevation ranges from 60 meters to 3,742 meters with high chances of earthquakes and heavy rainfalls since Hualien experiences 2,000mm of rain a year as well as typhoons from the months of July to September. Due to such weather conditions, be sure to add these items in your bags:
- Light jacket
- Bug spray
- Comfortable shoes (or hiking boots)
- Water bottle
Don’t completely walk through Taroko from trail head to trail head.
It can be quite dangerous to attempt walking through Taroko from trail head to trail head. Despite its 5-10 kilometers distance, the roads are extremely tortuous without any shoulders along the edge. In addition to danger, there are also large tour buses that speed through dark tunnels and narrow road that can barely fit cars traversing in opposite directions. Therefore, local blogs and travel guides might recommend walking through the Gorge from head to head, we highly recommend against it due to safety reasons.
Start your hike early in the morning.
Early in the morning also means experiencing Taroko Gorge without the bombardment of large tour buses and crowds of tourists that tend to start their tours at 10 a.m. Since walking paths at all the trails are narrow, encountering large groups of tourists can ruin your tranquil experience. Some tour guides even use megaphones or scream out information that can kill the serene mood in nature. If there are options within your hotel’s tour package or the travel guide is offering time flexibility, try to select a time prior to 10 a.m.!
Keep an eye out for wildlife.
Taroko Gorge is a fantastic place to observe the beautiful wildlife that lives in the region, including: Formosan Black Bear, Formosan serow, Formosan sambar deer, Grey Rock Monkey, 250+ species of butterflies, 150+ types of birds like the Formosa Blue Magpie, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, and the Swinhoe’s Pheasant. During your hike, watch out for poisonous snakes and large hornets.
Stroll through the Nine Turns Trail, or Jiuqudong Tunnel 九曲洞步道.
One of the fundamental trails is the Tunnel of Nine Turns, or Jiuqudong Tunnel 九曲洞步道. At 300 meters of altitude and 700 meters long, the easy peasy pathway is one of the newer ones at Taroko Gorge. It starts and finishes at the west end of the trailhead and encompasses the Liwu River, magnificent cliffs, dazzling waterfalls, and of course, grand marble walls. Along the way, there are explanations of various vista points to look out for, like the “Coiled Dragon of the Nine Turns” and “Fish Leaping over the Dragon’s Gate.”
The entire trail requires 40 minutes to walk through.
Do the Shakadang Trail 砂卡礑步道 for an easy hike.
Another easy walkway is the Shakadang Trail 砂卡礑步道, or the “Mysterious Valley Trail,” which begins underneath the red Shakadang Bridge or as many locals refer to it as “Hundred Lion Bridge 百獅橋.” Look closely, each lion has a different expression and pose. Some were brought over from an older bridge that previously collapsed, some lions are newly built.
Much lower in altitude at 60 meters, the 4.4-kilometer Shakadang Trail passes the stunning views of cobalt rock pools that alters colors from sky blue to Tiffany’s blue depending on the amount of sunlight reflected upon the rock pools’ surface. The entire trail requires 3-4 hours to walk through, but I did it in two hours, by turning back at an earlier point.
The authenticity of Shakadang Trail is that it leads to the protected territory of the Truku aboriginals. An hour into the hike, you’ll stop by several street vendors managed by the Truku tribe, selling artisanal handicrafts and sausages.
Turn around at 3D Cabin, where you’ll need an entry permit to continue the hike. Visit here for more details.
Eat a peppercorn sausage, grilled by the Truku tribe.
In general, devouring a Taiwanese sausage is a must-do at night markets or restaurants. A traditional Taiwanese sausage is grilled with slight charcoaled skin atop a shiny glazed coat of fat, wrapped around a sweet and savory pink pork sausage on a wooden stick. At the Shakadang Trail, however, the sausages embody mini peppercorns inside freshly barbecued pork. Enjoying a local sausage is not only supporting local Truku tribes, but it’s also a delicious shot of energy before hiking back to the bridge.